In my current manuscript, there are many things I’m struggling with. (More on some of those other things here.) One of them is when my protagonist first meets the boy who will eventually become a love interest. In movies, known as the “meet-cute.”
So I have a slightly different struggle: how to introduce the readers to this character through the eyes of someone who already knows him?
As always, I’m turning to examples of books I loved for help. So I’m doing a little series of “meet-cutes for people who already know each other.” (Someone come up with a better term for this, please.)
The first one, from this adorable novel:
My eyes close, and I jump and thrash to the pounding drums. I spin in circles and laugh and throw my body. The energy of the guitar builds and builds, and the bass thrums through me like blood. I am invincible.
And then I open my eyes.
Cricket Bell grins. “Hi, Lola.”
He’s sitting in his window. Literally sitting in it. His butt is on the windowsill, and his legs–impossibly long and slender–are dangling against the side of his house, two stories above the ground. And his hands are folded in his lap as if spying on his unsuspecting female neighbor was the most natural thing in the world.
I stare, helpless and dumbfounded, and he bursts into laughter. His body rocks with it, and he throws back his head and claps his hands.
Cricket Bell laughs at me. And claps.
“I called your name.” He tries to stop smiling, but his mouth only opens wider with delight. I can practically count his teeth. “I called it a dozen times, but your music was too loud, so I was waiting it out. You’re a good dancer.”
Mortification strips me of the ability to engage in intelligent conversation.
“I’m sorry.” His grin hasn’t disappeared, but he visibly squirms. “I only wanted to say hello.”
He swings his leg back inside his bedroom in one fluid motion. There’s a lightness to the way he lands on his feet, a certain grace, that’s instantly recognizable. It washes me in a familiar aching shame. And then he stretches, and I’m stunned anew.
“Cricket, you’re … tall.”
Which is, quite possibly, the stupidest thing I could say to him.
Cricket Bell was always taller than most boys, but in the last two years, he’s added half a foot. AT least. His slender body–once skinny and awkward, despite his graceful movements–has also changed. He’s filled out, though just slightly. The edge has been removed. But pointing out that someone is tall is like pointing out the weather when it’s raining. Both obvious and irritating.
“It’s the hair,” he says with a straight face. “Gravity has always been my nemesis.”
And his dark hair is tall. It’s floppy, but … inverted floppy. I’m not sure how it’s possible without serious quantities of mousse or gel, but even when he was a kid, Cricket’s hair stood straight up. It gives him the air of a mad scientist, which actually isn’t that far off. His hair is one of the things I always liked about him.
Until I didn’t like him at all, that is.
He waits for me to reply, and when I don’t, he clears his throat. “But you’re taller, too. Of course. I mean, it’s been a long time. So obviously you are. Taller.”
We take each other in. My mind spins as it tries to connect the Cricket of the present with the Cricket of the past. He’s grown up and grown into his body, but it’s still him. The same boy I fell in love with in the ninth grade. My feelings had been building since our childhood, but that year, the year he turned sixteen, was the year everything changed.
This scene goes on, of course, and it’s adorable and smart and everything a meet-cute for people who already know each other should be. Why does it work?
1. You don’t see it here, but there’s a build up to this scene. Lola mentions how she never wants to see her neighbor again and then she sees the moving truck next door, and then when she sees a car she doesn’t recognize, she’s relieved it’s not him. So we know there’s someone she’s apprehensive about seeing.
2. The element of surprise when she stops dancing to see that the very person she didn’t want to see is sitting in the window is great.
3. Since they haven’t seen each other in a while, the physical descriptions make a lot of sense. She’s noticing the things that have changed about him. It may have been harder to drop in detailed physical descriptions if they’d just seen each other yesterday, but this works here.
4. There’s action along with the background information. Stopping the action and doing a straight info-dump–“Cricket and I haven’t seen each other in two years,” etc.–would have not been the way to go. But by sprinkling in bits of the background we need to know amongst the dialogue and action makes the scene interesting and compelling.
So! Lots of learnings here. I’ll do another installment next week, perhaps with the meet-cute from this awesome book. Then I’m sure I’ll think of more. I love, love, reading about love interests who start out as friends–which is probably why I write about it so much. If you can think of any books that start this way, I’d love to know!
Image a screenshot from this amazing movie